Breast may be Best, But it’s Nobody’s Business
I will never forget the moment shortly after giving birth to my son, the moment he was put to my breast for the very first time. The intimacy between mother and child, though no longer connected through the womb, now becomes a connection to our body for nourishment and comfort, creating such an indescribable bond. The moment was truly amazing, but it sure didn’t last long.
I think we can all agree that breast milk is best, ranking highest in nutritional value along with many other benefits. But like the choice between cloth and disposable diapers, crib to sleep or family bed and the plethora of sleep training methods, breastfeeding is also a choice, and one that is best left in the hands of the woman who knows herself and her baby best. We as moms are quick to jump on any woman with a bottle in her bag. Informed decisions – yes, judged – why?
My experience was unlikely the first of its kind. As a first time mother who’d studied every book on caring for a newborn, little was mentioned about nursing my little one apart from the whimsical sketches of a mother romantically nursing her child in five easy positions. Just take your pick, right?
Nowhere did I read about the burning, bleeding, blistering, scabbing mess across my chest that I’d likely experience, and is all too common in those first few days. It’s taboo in our culture to discuss such atrocities, but somehow, without warning or explanation, we’re expected to woman up and push through the unforeseen torture in order to reach the most highly esteemed goal – breastfeeding.
This is not to say that help is not available. In British Columbia, and likely across the country, plenty of support is offered in the way of breastfeeding help. From midwives, to public health nurses, lactation consultants and breastfeeding clinics, much help is available if it is sought out.
Words can’t express the appreciation I have for my midwives and the local nurses for the care and help that I received. I sought help hoping that I could breastfeed, but at the end of the day, I longed for one person to tell me it was okay if I couldn’t do it. But, “couldn’t”, wasn’t an option, and, “giving up”, wasn’t acceptable.
Not every woman will struggle as some do, and I only wish that fewer did. For some the breastfeeding dance comes easily. Both mother and child are in synchrony from the moment skin touches skin, but for others, as one midwife put it, “Breastfeeding is like telling two people who’ve never met, to tango.” My son and I, we just didn’t tango.
After more than three months of tears, grief, shame and exhaustion, (this is hardly a glimpse into my struggle, I won’t even delve into what medical use I derived from yogurt and plastic wrap) I determinedly pressed on to breastfeed my son, despite the complications, infections, pain and horror of it all. I came to a point where I was done torturing myself and my son, and formula seemed the best option to be able to finally allow myself to enjoy my baby boy.
I shed more tears over the pain of letting go of breastfeeding than those of the physical pain and anguish of breastfeeding itself. I deeply mourned the possibility of forfeiting the bond that I thought was only achievable through skin to skin contact, through the intimate act of my child being comforted, fed and nourished by me, his mother; sole sustainer of his life.
Even still, I was ashamed; afraid to be labeled as a bottle feeding mom, as though it was equal to that of poisoning my child eight times daily. I can’t even begin to count the dozens of women (and men) who ventured to ask my breastfeeding status, and the deep pain in my heart that would resonate each time this question was asked, afraid that soon the answer would be, “not anymore.” Nobody would ever know why, nobody would know the battle I fought and was about to lose. I think that bothered me most of all.
My story doesn’t end here. Shortly after coming to terms with the whole situation, breastfeeding slowly became more comfortable, and now nine months after my son’s birth, we have an enjoyable breastfeeding relationship. I am forever grateful to all who helped bring me to this place. There was no easy solution or quick fix, but rather many hours spent reading, viewing, listening, learning, trying and seeking out ways to make this breastfeeding relationship work. That, and a healthy dose (or perhaps slightly over-thetop dose) of stubborn perseverance.
I am grateful for my journey, for the experience I’ve gained and the empathy I now have after travelling a difficult path that so many mothers go on. Today, I can certainly offer my story, my knowledge, help and understanding, and though breast may be best, at the end of the day, it’s none of my business.
Andrea Postal, mother of one beautiful son.